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Friday, March 7, 2014

Lenten Foods

During this season of Lent, I thought it would be a good idea to post different Lenten practices that can be introduced into the home. Today's post on Lenten foods is taken from pp. 74-75 of Religious Customs in the Family: The Radiation of the Liturgy into Catholic Homes by Fr. Francis X. Weiser, S.J.

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A traditional means of reminding the family that it is the holy season of Lent is the Lenten foods, which are served only at this time of the year. Thus, parents and children realize, even at their meals, that prayer and penance should be practiced during these days.

Apart from meats, anything might do as "Lenten food," so long as it is not usually prepared in the same way during the rest of the year. In some countries it was customary to bake the buns with an indentation in the form of a cross (cross buns). In other places, certain soups are served only in Lent (bread soup, lentil soup, spinach soup, etc.). In many families, the desserts are made without sugar frosting or whipped cream during Lent. [Or, dessert may be entirely omitted from meals.] There are many ways of indicating the holy season by the choice of certain Lenten foods. Any one of them is good, as long as it is reasonable in itself and serves the purpose of reminding the family of Lent.

Perhaps the easiest, and at the same time the most significant, Lenten food custom for our time might be to serve a small pretzel to every member of the family with his main meal in Lent. It sounds surprising, but the pretzel has a deep spiritual meaning for Lent. In fact, it was the ancient Christian Lenten bread as far back as the fifth century. In the old Roman Empire, the faithful kept a very strict fast all through Lent: no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs,  no cream and of course, no meat. So they made small breads of water, flour, and salt. To remind themselves that Lent was a time of prayer, they shaped these breads in the forms of arms crossed in prayer (in those days they crossed their arms over the breast while praying). Therefore they called the breads "little arms" (bracellae). From this Latin word the Germans later coined the term "pretzel".

An illustration from the 12th century
Hortus delicaiarum - an early depiction
of a pretzel, shown at a banquet with
Queen Esther and King Ahasuerus
More here.
Thus the pretzel is the most appropriate food symbol in Lent. It still shows the form of arms crossed in prayer, reminding us that Lent is a time of prayer. It consists only of water and flour, thus proclaiming Lent as a time of fasting. Besides, it is a custom come down to us from the early Christians, who had invented it a bearer of such a great spiritual message. (The earliest picture and description of a pretzel - from the fifth century - may be found in the manuscript-codex No. 3867, Vatican Library.)

That many people eat pretzels today all throughout the year, that they take them together with beer in taverns and restaurants, is only an accidental habit. The true purpose and meaning has been forgotten. However, the pretzel still is an image of arms crossed in prayer; it still is the symbol of prayerful penance in Lent. In many places of Europe pretzels are served only from Ash Wednesday to Easter, thus keeping the ancient symbolism alive.

There seems to be no reason why our Catholic families should not return to this beautiful custom of our ancient Roman fellow-Christians, especially since we still have these breads around everywhere. The children will be delighted and greatly impressed when they hear the true story of the pretzel. And such a pretzel at their dinner plate every day during Lent will certainly proclaim its spiritual message as clearly and deeply to them as it did to many a Christian in ancient Rome.

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Religious Customs in the Family: The Radiation of the Liturgy into Catholic Homes is a very interesting book, and it useful for cultivating the Faith in the family. You can buy it...

...from TAN Books ($10.95)
....from Amazon ($8.99)

Book description:
"Many beautiful; traditional religious customs that will give Catholic homes a truly Catholic spirit year round: E.g.; blessing of children; name days; feast days; Advent and Christmas customs; etc. Great reading for all. Essential to help every Catholic family overcome secularism. Shows the religious source of even such common things as pretzels; hot cross buns; the Easter ham; Thanksgiving Day; Spring Cleaning; etc. What parts of the Christmas Tree are Catholic; and which ones came from secular influence. Very interesting and useful!"

And, finally, I will end this post with an easy recipe I found for soft pretzels from Sally's Baking Addiction.

First, you’re going to stir a packet of yeast into a bowl of warm water – 1.5 cups of water to be exact.   Do not be afraid of yeast! Trust me, I was too.  But you are not waiting for any dough to rise in today’s recipe.  It’s simply another ingredient, like adding salt or something.  Not so bad, right?
Give the water and yeast a nice mix around in the bowl.  There will be some yeast lumps floating around. That’s ok, I promise.  Next, add a bit of sugar and salt. Mix, mix, mix by hand.  Easy easy easy.
Next, stir in your flour.  If you’ve been counting, that’s the fifth and final ingredient.  Use 3 cups of flour at first.  I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 2 cups of all-purpose flour* (read below for notes about the taste/texture of the whole wheat vs white flour pretzels).
See rest of recipe here.

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